Red Brick Distillery: Urban Craft Whiskey Done the Hard Way
There is something really romantic about the world of wine and spirits. For thousands of years, fathers have toasted their sons, warriors celebrated victories, dear friends console one another – all with a drink. People drink to relax, drink to connect with someone, and drink for courage.
The whiskey distiller has a noble profession. He combines art with meticulous hard work, and it’s all in the name of creating a beverage worthy of life’s greatest moments.
Brian Forrest founded Red Brick Distillery in 2015. Shortly after, making whiskey and rum was the only thing he did. Red Brick is award-winning yet small. He works out of a warehouse in North Philadelphia, and according to him, he makes some of the best whiskey in the world. I tried it, and I have to say, it’s hard to argue with him.
Did you know: For a spirit to legally be called whiskey in the United States, it must be distilled from fermented grains at less than 95% alcohol per volume and bottled at no less than 45%.
How did Red Brick Distillery get started?
Red Brick grew out of my hobby. I was that guy at parties that would bring along whiskey for people to try out. Not just whiskey – I made rum and gin, which were a lot quicker to make. Whiskey was a challenge. I was making one barrel at a time. Along the way, friends were really supportive and encouraging, and I just decided to go for it. I made my share of mistakes in the beginning.
What were you doing before making whiskey?
I used to be a remodeler. I built kitchens and bathrooms. Construction has been my career for my entire adult life. I have an art background too, so I know how to weld. I’ve always been hands-on. I’ve always been confident that if I don’t know how to do something, I’ll figure it out along the way. I built my first still. You can buy them online now, but you could only find plans for one when I was getting started. By two or three attempts, I had a solid piece of equipment that I could rely on.
What did you make the still out of? Copper?
Copper and stainless steel. The draw to copper is that it’s really safe and amazing conductor. It’s a lot better than stainless in that sense. I try to use copper where I can, but I don’t really see much of a difference.
The Process for Making Whiskey: Yeast is added to grain and water and over time it converts sugar into alcohol. This is called the fermentation process. Afterward, the mash is placed in a still where the alcohol is separated from the water by heating the mash above 173° F, the temperature at which alcohol evaporates but less than 212° F, the temperature at which water evaporates. This is called the distillation process.
What’s cooking at Red Brick Distillery today?
Right now, I’m making rum. We’re running the still on the first time through. We’re collecting whatever comes off. I made an initial cut right in the beginning. I typically take a gallon off the top of the first run. It’s like the super heads. It eliminates all the dangerous stuff right out of the gate. We’ll do the same thing on the second run.
Were you affected by COVID?
COVID time was a really wild time for distillers. All of a sudden, hand sanitizer was 10x more valuable than spirits. Everyone needed it. It was good for us; it came at a time when we needed it. And it was fun. A lot of my friends came to help. One of my friends came by to buy a bottle of whiskey because he was upset that he got laid off, and he ended up working for me for about three months.
Are bars and restaurants big buyers?
Red Brick is high-end whiskey. We do well in farmer’s markets. It’s that bottle you take home for your bar at home. That’s our brand. Bars aren’t really our big thing. It’s time-consuming and not the biggest return.
Were there any challenges you weren’t expecting in growing Red Brick Distillery?
I can’t say that it was unexpected, but the biggest challenges are making the whiskey from scratch and focusing on local grains. It’s extremely rare, especially for my size. Many smaller companies and even not so smaller companies purchase whiskey from other companies and re-bottle it. Sometimes they’ll sit on it for a while so they can say they aged it. Then they just bring the proof down and bottle it. I think those guys capitalize on the image of the small craft guys, like Red Brick Distillery, without actually doing it all. It’s tough to compete with their margins, but doing it the right way is important to us.
Talk to me about your flagship products.
Our flagship is an American Single Malt. 100% malted barley; 90% grown in Pennsylvania. We sell two different varieties: 80 proof and cask strength. The 80 proof is vanilla and sweet caramel on the nose and malty center and finishes like chocolate-covered citrus. You pick up a little more cinnamon and cherry notes with our cask strength. The flavor really whacks you, and the finish is long-lasting. A good exercise to really get the flavor profile of a whiskey is to add water as you taste. The flavor starts to break apart, and it’s easier to identify them.
Did you know: Many distillers use virgin barrels to age their whiskey. This is a requirement for bourbon and some other types of whiskey. This is an expensive practice. Luckily, used whiskey barrels are valuable to breweries, wineries, and makers of other spirits who want to use the barrels to give their drink some extra flavor.
From the Woods is our oldest recipe at Red Brick Distillery. It utilizes the second use of the barrel. After we use a barrel for whiskey, we fill it with the From the Woods. It’s a whiskey made from birch beer that we make from scratch. We literally go out into the woods. My dad and my uncle go out with a tractor and a woodchipper. We use wildflower honey, demerara sugar, and black birch bark. We make a pretty sugary birch beer, and then we steep it like tea. Then we ferment the whole thing – wood chips and everything. It gets super dry, and then it goes into our whiskey barrel and sits for two years. It’s probably our most popular product. It won a gold medal on a national level from the American Distillers Association.
That’s got to feel good.
At the market, we give out samples to people walking by in Rittenhouse Square, and they’d say ‘oh, that’s pretty good,’ with no intention of buying it. Then they’d walk away still tasting it, and they would get four or five booths away, and they’d come back. It’s a common interaction.
That’s what gets me going. I’m not the right person to ask about pure business stuff. I’m an artist. What really gets me excited is when people are enjoying it and knowing that I make a great product. I would put my whiskey up against any other in the world. That’s what I do it for.
What came first: your entreprenurial spirit or Red Brick Distillery?
Definitely my entrepreneurial spirit, no question about it. It’s a strong drive to be self-employed. If it weren’t for Red Brick Distillery, I would definitely be doing something else for myself. Working for yourself is a lot of hard work, and it scares some people. But for me, there’s just no other way.
Check out more founders and CEOs in our Interview Series.
KC Essentials: How Katie Centrella Turned a Challenge into a Business
When faced with hardships, we all look forward to the day when we finally get past them. Things would be so much better if << insert challenge here>> was behind me. But the truth is, these are the moments when we better ourselves. Nothing builds character like rising to the occasion.
Katie Centrella rose to the occasion when she learned that her infant son, Marco had allergies. Not just one or two – but a long list of them. And while altering his diet to help, she discovered more allergies. It was quickly becoming a full-time job. Katie had to change the way she shopped, the way she did laundry, and cleaned the house.
And out of this hardship, KC Essentials was born. Katie tells the story better than I can.
How did KC Essentials get its start?
It all started back when my son, Marco, was a newborn. He had really bad eczema. He was baby number 3, and I didn’t experience this with my other two, so I knew something was out of the ordinary. The first time he had milk, he had an anaphylactic reaction. We took him to the doctor and found out he had multiple allergies – peanut, tree nut, dairy, egg, sesame, fish, sunflower – all the top 8 and then some. It was really overwhelming. I didn’t know much about food allergies. I really had to take the bull by the horns and educate myself. I had to look at everything that went into our house. I started reading every food label. Going to the grocery store was a big hurdle. I realized that everything we put into our bodies – a lot of the ingredients were unnatural and even harmful.
I started making skincare products for him when a friend of mine who had a son with eczema told me about these lotion bars she made. She suggested I make them for him. They were just a few ingredients like lavender and essential oils. I was like, ‘what are essential oils?’ So, I got a starter kit of essential oils, and I challenged myself to try and make things before I went and bought the product. I made our laundry detergent. I made body lotion for him and lip balm and things of that nature.
Sounds like the challenge paid off.
I started these Make-and-Take parties with my friends. They would come over, and I’d say, what do you guys want to make, and we’ll make it together. We did that a couple of times. People really liked it, and many of them could relate to what was going on with Marco. Either their kids had allergies too, or they were just looking for cleaner products.
When was this?
Marco was born in February of 2014. Within the first year of when I started making products for him, I started making them for others. I was doing the Make-and-Take parties every couple of months, and then some people started asking me if they could buy the products. Finally, a friend of mine who owns her own store in Georgia asked if I’ve ever considered selling this and making a business out of this.
A couple of friends encouraged me to set up a vendor table at the mushroom fair in my hometown of Kennett Square (outside of Philly). I found a friend of a friend who made a label for me. I made my lotion bars and deodorant, and lip balm. I put a label on it, and it went really well, and that’s when KC Essentials began.
It must be rewarding to run a business that also helps people.
Thank you. It’s the teacher in me. I like having the Make-and-Takes and explaining things, and helping others. I enjoy working with kids – I have three of my own. And I like experimenting and learning. So it does feel pretty good.
I’ll do little pop-ups in local stores in town with my kids, where we’ll do fairy-themed and Harry Potter-themed events.
Do you still do the Make-and-Takes?
Not as much since the pandemic hit. But I started doing the pop-ups. We make gifts like body sprays and essential oil rollers. Sometimes my kids will do them with me, and we’ll do a fairy theme or Harry Potter. But things are getting busier, and it’s hard to find the time.
How many stores carry KC Essentials?
I’m in over 20 stores in the Tri-State area. I just got on Faire, which is a website that brings wholesalers and retailers together. With Faire, I’m now in Baltimore, and I’ve got orders going to Florida and Nevada.
Tell me about the products.
I have seven product lines. My women’s line is called Queen Bee. The body lotions and body scrubs are very popular. I have a men’s line, Bee Smooth. Our popular products for that are beard oil and hair pomade, and aftershave. I make a deodorizing lotion called Between the Bees, which will be great for Father’s Day coming up. I have a home line where I sell candles and body soap. Those have been huge; they’re my best sellers. I have a tween line Bee’s Knees. I named that for my girls who love magic and Harry Potter. They think my essential oils are like potions. And then I have a baby line, Bay Bee, which were most of the products I made for my son. And then I have a pet line, Bee My Pet. And a yoga line, Just Bee.
Do you make everything on your own?
Oh yeah, I make it all on my own in my home right now. One of my goals is to get a storefront or a site to make everything.
Any unexpected hurdles?
Well, I do everything from making my own products to sales to social media. But I’m also a mom, and I have my kids to take care of. Up until two weeks ago, they were homeschooled most of the time because of the pandemic, so that was a challenge.
I was doing really well in January of last year, and then the pandemic hit, and everything went flat. The majority of my sales were wholesale and at craft shows and fairs, and all that went to a halt, so I had to focus on online sales.
Now that the kids are back in school, I’ve gotten so much done.
Any advice for entrepreneurs?
It’s huge to connect with people in your community. I have so much support from local businesses and the people in my town. I feel like, with the pandemic, people are rooting for small businesses. I had no idea so many people want to learn how to make a lotion bar.
And take it one day at a time. When things get overwhelming, stay focused to accomplish the task on hand. Small accomplishments are rewarding too.
Any advice for parents?
Follow your instincts. If there is something wrong, go with that. I’ve heard so many doctors say, ‘oh no, he’s not sensitive. Don’t worry about it.’ But I felt it in my gut. And you don’t have to do what everyone else does. Do what feels right to you because you’re developing your family, and you’ve got one shot at it, so do what’s most important to you. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you’re having issues, chances are other people are having the same issue.
Check out other conversations in our Interview Series.
OrangeCrate Brings Quality Food Delivery to Rural Communities
Writing for Owners Mag, I get to hear from many entrepreneurs. Learning about their successes is always very intriguing. No two stories are alike. Sometimes, I hear stories that make me think, ‘man if only I came up with that idea!’ or ‘this guy is a genius.’ But my favorite stories don’t go that way at all.
Take Andrew Simmons’ story, for example. He founded OrangeCrate, a service that specializes in delivering food in rural communities. It’s not a game-changing app or a flashy new product. It’s a service – a simple enough service – that owes its success to Andrew’s entrepreneurial spirit. He identified a problem and came up with a solution.
You may have never thought much about your food’s journey from the restaurant to your doorstep. Or maybe you’ve come to expect poor quality when you order delivery. But thanks to Andrew Simmons, OrangeCrate is looking to change all of that.
Tell me about OrangeCrate.
ANDREW: We built OrangCrate under the premise that rural communities needed to have restaurant deliveries as well. When we started (in Ramona, CA), the larger players were not in our space at all. We’re like a tier 3, tier 4 city. DoorDash, Grubhub, and Postmates were all in the tier 1 cities. It was just low-hanging fruit.
We launched about 6 years ago to a bunch of restaurants that said it was the dumbest idea they’d ever heard. They thought no one would actually pay to have food delivered, even though places like dominoes have been doing it for years. In our market, we only had Domino’s Pizza and maybe Pizza Hut. There were about 44 restaurants that had no delivery whatsoever, so that was our first foray into it. We did one or two orders per day for a couple of weeks, and that started to slowly build more volume from word of mouth.
Now you have franchises set up in different towns?
ANDREW: I wouldn’t call them franchises. It’s more like a licensing agreement. When we were running Ramona, we were making ‘ok money,’ but we knew that we could use our whole back-end operations to power other locations. Our second location was in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. We had two drivers work for us in Ramona. They got married and wanted to be closer to family. So, they moved back home and started the second OrangeCrate. We used that experience to learn how to open up more locations. We look for people who have the hustle but don’t have the money to open up their own franchise or get a license. Then, we teach them what we know about working with restaurants and drivers, and then we completely fund everything they need.
If you can hustle, we completely cover the cost to start up that business share the profits at 50/50. And at a pretty high level. It’s gross food sales minus cost, and we split it 50/50 from there. We cover everything they needed from payroll to marketing. At the end of the month, we make about 8% from every city, and they make about 49%.
What were some hurdles you guys faced in the first couple of years that you weren’t expecting?
ANDREW: The insurance was a huge hurdle for us. We were able to work a deal with an insurance company that we paid on a per order basis rather than overall. Usually, insurance is like 75k a year per city, but we were able to come to an agreement with a company where it worked out to something like 40 cents an order. That made it more favorable for us to grow and expand.
Although we did start in a rural market and we’ve expanded into rural markets, over the years, we’ve bought other restaurant delivery services, which is why we’re in bigger places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Pensacola, Florida.
Was the goal always to start rural and then go into more populated towns?
ANDREW: No. There were so many rural communities out there, and we felt that we could be in those communities and not be touched by DoorDash or UberEATS. Since then, DoorDash and those larger companies have tried to make inroads into the rural communities, but they then run into trouble finding drivers. You can find plenty of drivers in large metropolitan areas – I should take that back. You could find lots of drivers before the stimulus payments. Nowadays, it’s a hustle within itself to find drivers. You make more money staying home.
The side hustle has been undercut by these stimulus checks.
How were you guys able to have an edge in the rural communities over DoorDash and GrubHub?
ANDREW: With OrangeCrate, we teach all of our drives how to deliver food properly. We use a certain health standard bag. It maintains the temperature you have to keep the food at – both cold and hot.
It’s the whole customer service with the consumer and how you dress to make that food delivery. We’re building a standard called Deliver Safe that teaches other drivers how to do the same thing in other markets.
One of the things with DoorDash and UberEATS is the driver grabs the food in the bag from the restaurant, they toss it in the front seat of the car, drive to wherever, and hand it off to the consumer. But if it was hot food when it left the restaurant, it’s lukewarm by the time it gets to the consumer – or worse. There’s no care in extending the restaurant’s brand once the driver leaves the restaurant. With our smaller services, we have this hands-on approach with the restaurants. It’s all local: local delivery, local service, local people. That tends to resonate better than national delivery companies that don’t seem to care other than to collect money from the restaurant.
Most people don’t put much thought into the distance between a restaurant and their home, but that plays a huge part. I know many restaurants are apprehensive about delivery because they can plate up the food and have it be served just right in their restaurant. But, there’s an X factor with the delivery driver where they don’t know what it will look like on the other end.
ANDREW: Exactly. From our experience, we’ve seen all sorts of drivers from the other services. Even within our community, DoorDash has tried to move into Ramona. They have one driver up here, and we see him using those flimsy bags that aren’t keeping anything hot or cold.
For Las Cruces, New Mexico, we deliver to White Sands Air Force Base, which I think is 25 miles away. We’re able to keep food at that approximate temperature for up to 60 minutes by the time we get it to the consumer. They can still have hot food from Joe’s BBQ shack, whereas the same food coming from DoorDash, assuming they would even go that far – they usually limit their distance to 7 miles, they lose a lot of the warmth factor of their food. Not to mention how it’s handled.
What was an ‘I made it’ moment for OrangeCrate?
ANDREW: I don’t know if this was exactly an ‘I made it’ moment but, we started in 2016 with about $5k to start up the company. We now do revenue in excess of 6 million a year. This past year we paid off almost $300,000 in debt to come into 2021 completely debt-free.
I don’t know if there’s one moment but knowing how we do what we do – it works for us. As such, it’s allowed me to do things for myself. I volunteer at the RMDA (Restaurant Marketing and Delivery Association). It’s about 700 independent companies like myself. I’m able to take time out of my day and help them – mentor them on how to grow in their markets. Many of them are smaller than me, some of them are bigger.
How was COVID for OrangeCrate?
ANDREW: COVID was actually pretty good for OrangeCrate. Pretty good for most delivery services. It wasn’t great for restaurants. I also own a restaurant. We bought it a month before COVID became a thing. It was this 40-year-old Italian restaurant in Ramona. It was a treasure. Everyone was sad that it was leaving, but it was struggling to survive before COVID.
We bought it because we knew delivery, so we figured that’s how we would turn things around. (Due to COVID) we ended up essentially breaking even for the year even though we upped the delivery. We couldn’t do any dine-in whatsoever for a long time. Now that’s all starting to come back, so we think it will be a good investment for us, but that’s a whole other aspect to what we do that was new to learn. We ended up losing something like $10,000/month on the restaurant end, but we made up for it on the OrangeCrate end.
Before the pandemic, restaurants viewed delivery services as not as critical to their existence as dine-in. As soon as COVID hit, and they could no longer do dine-in, we had to help so many restaurants pivot to delivery. And if a restaurant wasn’t known for doing delivery, it was an uphill battle for marketing to get food in front of the consumer. But we did it. In Ramona, we didn’t lose a single restaurant that I know of within our own community.
Sounds like that’s in large part because of you.
Do you have a ballpark percentage on how much your deliveries went up last year?
ANDREW: I’d say probably about 130% year over year but I’d have to look at the numbers to be certain.
There’s a spectrum of entrepreneurs. On one end, there’s that person who says, ‘I want to be in business for myself. How do I do that?’ Then there’s that other person who ends up going into business for themselves because they have a product or a service that was a great idea, and they had to see it through. Where do you see yourself in that spectrum?
ANDREW: I’m the first one. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 14 years old. My first job was working at a fruit stand in Colorado where I literally rode by on my bike, and they screamed ‘Hey, boy!’ for me to come over and help them. I ended up running the fruit stand for them. Pops and Edith: they were older than dirt. I started moving produce from the bins to the truck to running my own location for them.
At some point, the Mac 128 came out. I opened up a graphic design business. A couple of years after that, I ended up owning a digital print shop.
It’s actually kind of funny. I bought my first digital press from Xerox in ‘96. It’s a million-dollar press and, you know I have no money. So, I fill out the documentation and everything. And Xerox calls my bank, and my bank says, ‘he has low 3 figures in his bank account,’ and Xerox thinks they misheard, and they said low 6 figures, and they delivered me this million-dollar press. It was awesome. It was a mistake on their part that helped me grow my business significantly. And after that, I bought a second digital press, and we did great.
I ended up selling the company and doing sales for a number of years. Then about 15 years ago, my wife and I adopted 6 kids together all at once. We had to decide which one of our jobs was more stable because one of us would have to quit to help take care of them. I ended up quitting. I knew I could always find a way to make money. Years later, I started OrangeCrate.
Last thing: any words of wisdom for entrepreneurs trying to get their idea off the ground?
ANDREW: Just keep at it. There’s plan A and if that doesn’t work, there’s 25 remaining letters in the alphabet.